Mass surveillance was necessary after 9/11, but not expanding the law to authorize it was a “strategic blunder” that landed the agency in hot water after the Snowden revelations, a former NSA counsel told the agency.
“In the wake of Snowden, our country has lost control of the geopolitical narrative; our companies have lost more than $100 billion in business and counting. Collection has surely suffered,” Joel Brenner told the audience at National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland on Friday.
“The damage from the Snowden leaks to American foreign intelligence operations, to American prestige, and to American power… has unquestionably been vastly greater” than if the White House had amended the law in 2002 to allow bulk collection of US phone records, Brenner said.
The former NSA inspector general and senior counsel at the agency was speaking at an event marking the anniversary of the 1975 Church hearings on surveillance abuses. The hearings resulted in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Brenner told the assembled agency officials that not engaging in mass surveillance following the 2001 terrorist attacks would have been “derelict,” but that the way it was done sacrificed a “strategic asset for tactical advantage.”